The coronavirus lockdown may have temporarily delayed West Belfast waving hello to the new £25m Andersonstown Leisure Centre, but there’s nothing that can dampen the community’s excitement. Focused on water-based family fun, local kids (and we suspect their parents) wait with baited breath for the opportunity to experience this state-of-the-art facility’s slides and surf machine. The third installment of Belfast City Council’s ambitious Leisure Transformation Programme, Andersonstown follows the recent opening of the Lisnasharragh and Brook leisure centres. All three have been constructed by the award-winning Heron Bros Ltd. Although they share much of the same DNA in terms of a fitness suite, exercise and spin studios, five-a-side pitches and a café, Belfast City Council was determined each would have a unique selling point.
The choice of an aquatic theme for the largest centre in this £105m investment in the city’s leisure services also created some distinctive challenges for the main contractor. First up was the site itself. “Andersonstown was the most restricted site out of the three leisure centres with regard to access,” explained Heron Bros Ltd’s Senior Contracts Manager, J.P. Higgins. “Situated on the busy Andersonstown Road with only one way in and out, this already tricky situation was further complicated by the Belfast Rapid Transport scheme that was taking place across the city. The Glider Bus works were directly outside the site. This required regular communication with all stake holders to ensure both projects could operate with minimal obstructions to deliveries, operatives and local businesses. Site Utilities were on the radar from the outset as the new BRT works required all utilities be applied for and installed prior to the 2 year embargo that followed completion of the BRT scheme.”
Synchronisation is not just for the swimming pool. Coordination was also the crucial component for main contractor Heron Bros. “We had to coordinate all the featured water pipe work to be installed months before the arrival of the kit,” said J.P. Higgins. “It required a series of meetings to ensure design information was available early in the contract.”
Large laydown areas were also a priority, with dozens of deliveries arriving on site from all over the world. The three main flumes that snake in and out of Andersonstown Leisure Centre originated in Canada. These huge slides, comprising a flat line loop, master blaster, and aqua launcher (complete with adrenalin-pumping freefall trap door) were supplied by WhiteWater West Industries Ltd in Vancouver, a water park design and manufacturing company founded by a former accountant Geoff Chutter (who said number crunchers were dull). There is also an aqua play area containing numerous children’s slides, water features and a tipping bucket. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project, however, came towards the project’s conclusion.
“We had installation of equipment programmed towards the end of the project when all the high level finishes were already completed. It required facilitating large access equipment at the same time as other work were taking place in the pool hall, such as tiling and metal work.” It also had to be coordinated with what is likely to become one of the new centre’s major attractions – the Surf Air wave machine by Murphy’s Waves Ltd, a Glasgow-based company that is at the forefront of wave machine and surf system technology.
A Common Goal
Having recently completed the Brook and Lisnasharragh Leisure Centres, Andersonstown is the latest tangible illustration of Belfast City Council’s investment in leisure provision. Five years has passed since the decision was made to devote £105m into updating an ageing estate, a financial outlay that surpasses previous high profile projects in Northern Ireland such as the Waterfront Hall and Connswater Community Greenway. A ‘big step change’ for BCC, it was agreed that employing a single main contractor for Brook, Lisnasharragh, Andersonstown, and the still to be completed Avoniel was the way forward.
“Offering one complete contract ensured both consistency and a standardisation for the future running of the centres,” said Martin Doherty, Project Manager for Belfast City Council’s Physical Programmes Department. “After extensive market engagement, and taking into account economies of scale, Heron Bros was appointed main contractor. That was still at quite an early stage. Although elements of design and planning had taken place, plus decisions made on the USP for each leisure centre, it was early enough in the process for Heron Bros to be at the table when we finalised designs and costings.” Belfast Borough Council allocated project managers for each leisure centre to work hand-in-hand with their Heron Bros counterparts. At the same time, Martin liaised at a more senior management level with Heron Bros Construction Director Karl McKillop and Senior Contracts Manager J.P. Higgins.
“A lot of people talk about collaboration, but it’s just paying lip service. Heron Bros not only talked the talk, but walked the walk, collaborating with ourselves, the design team, sub-contractors, the local communities – ensuring everyone was working towards the common goal.”
At their leisure
Andersonstown Leisure Centre may not yet have opened to the public, but it is still playing an important role in helping our hard-pressed health service. During the COVID-19 pandemic health workers have been using the shower and changing facilities, enabling them to clean, change and dispose of scrubs before returning home to their families.
Client: Belfast City Council
Main Contractor: Heron Bros.
Architect: McAdam Design
M&E Design: JCP Consulting Ltd
M&E Services: Dowds Group
Structural Engineer: McAdam Design